Accessing the Maine Coast: Updates from the Courts

Recent Developments in Law and Policy

John Duff, University of Massachusetts, Boston
This presentation will highlight recent developments in law and policies governing shoreline access. The balance between public and private interests in coastal access has been tested by conflicts in Maine and elsewhere.  In some states, courts have recognized and instituted a ‘doctrine of neighborly accommodation.’ Recent issues in Maine shine a light on a version of that concept in the form of a ‘presumption of permission’ principle. This rule as well as a variety of other means for the public to secure access to the coast will be examined.

The State of the Law - prescriptive easements and the public trust doctrine

Amy Tchao, Drummond Woodsum Attorneys
In light of the Law Court’s re-issued decision in Almeder v. Town of Kennebunkport (the Goose Rocks Beach case) on December 9, 2014, this presentation will discuss two primary topics: (a) an update on the state of the law on public prescriptive easements and the public trust doctrine in the wake of this decision, and how the Law Court’s decision (and other lower court decisions, such as the Cedar Beach decision in Harpswell , and the Owls Head decision) may impact public beach access litigation in the future; and (2) alternatives to beach-rights litigation for securing lasting public beach access through partnerships among municipalities, other entities, beach users and private landowners.The proposed presentation would discuss the experience of the Town of Kennebunkport in the Goose Rocks Beach lawsuit, including a discussion of the various court rulings impacting this case, as well as the negotiated resolution with more than 60 beachfront owners on Goose Rocks Beach in 2012 which ultimately resulted in a beach use agreement and management ordinance covering more than half of the two mile stretch of beach. The negotiated settlement agreement is unique in Maine with regard to its multi-faceted approach to balancing the needs of beachfront landowners and beach users and the regulatory role of a municipality.

The audience would learn about the effects of ongoing beach-rights litigation on a coastal community. It would also hear about the Town’s success in reaching a negotiated alternative to litigation, as well as provide an update on the state of the law governing beach access disputes that remains in flux in light of the Law Court’s December 9th, 2014 decision in the Goose Rocks Beach case.